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Title: Terrestrial Subsurface Ecosystem

The Earth’s crust is a solid cool layer that overlays the mantle, with a varying thickness of between 30-50 km on continental plates, and 5-10 km on oceanic plates. Continental crust is composed of a variety of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks that weather and re-form over geologic cycles lasting millions to billions of years. At the crust surface, these weathered minerals and organic material combine to produce a variety of soils types that provide suitable habitats and niches for abundant microbial diversity (see Chapter 4). Beneath this soil zone is the subsurface. Once thought to be relatively free of microorganisms, recent estimates have calculated that between 1016-1017 g C biomass (2-19% of Earth’s total biomass) may be present in this environment (Whitman et al., 1998;McMahon and Parnell, 2014). Microbial life in the subsurface exists across a wide range of habitats: in pores associated with relatively shallow unconsolidated aquifer sediments to fractures in bedrock formations that are more than a kilometer deep, where extreme lithostatic pressures and temperatures are encountered. While these different environments contain varying physical and chemical conditions, the absence of light is a constant. Despite this, diverse physiologies and metabolisms enable microorganisms to harness energy and carbonmore » for growth in water-filled pore spaces and fractures. Carbon and other element cycles are driven by microbial activity, which has implications for both natural processes and human activities in the subsurface, e.g., bacteria play key roles in both hydrocarbon formation and degradation. Hydrocarbons are a major focus for human utilization of the subsurface, via oil and gas extraction and potential geologic CO2 sequestration. The subsurface is also utilized or being considered for sequestered storage of high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power generation and residual waste from past production of weapons grade nuclear materials. While our understanding of the subsurface is continually improving, it is clear that only a small fraction of microbial habitats have been sampled and studied. In this chapter, we will discuss these studies in the context of the distribution of microbial life in the subsurface, the stresses that microorganisms must overcome to survive in these environments, and the metabolic strategies that are employed to harness energy in a region of the planet far-removed from sunlight. Finally, we will consider both beneficial and deleterious effects of microbial activity in the subsurface on human activities in this environment.« less
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Related Information: Ehrlich's Geomicrobiology, Sixth Edition, 69-95
CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, United States(US).
Research Org:
Pacific Northwest National Lab. (PNNL), Richland, WA (United States)
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Country of Publication:
United States